Pa­cific is­lan­ders Guam bare teeth in Rus­sia quest

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

TOKYO: More fa­mous for its sun-kissed beaches and co­ral reefs than its foot­ball, the tiny Pa­cific is­land of Guam is making waves in Asian qual­i­fy­ing for the 2018 World Cup. Coached by English­man Gary White, Guam have put the rugby-score losses of the past be­hind them with some gi­ant-killing per­for­mances and face Iran on Tues­day de­ter­mined to pre­serve a re­mark­able un­beaten home record.

“Math­e­mat­i­cally we’re still in it,” White told AFP by tele­phone on Mon­day, de­fi­ant de­spite last week’s dis­ap­point­ing 1-0 de­feat by In­dia.

“We need to get a min­i­mum of four points from the next two games to have a sniff but in foot­ball any­thing is pos­si­ble. This is not an easy place for any­body to come. We’ve won two and drawn one at home so we want to try to keep it as a fortress.” He added: “We’ve al­ready achieved one of our team goals by reach­ing the fi­nal round of 2019 Asian Cup qual­i­fiers, which is an amaz­ing achieve­ment.”

Guam’s pop­u­la­tion is just 170,000 but White’s “Matao”-a name de­rived from the no­ble classes of Mi­crone­sia’s an­cient Chamorro so­ci­ety-have con­sis­tently punched above their weight, with vic­to­ries against Turk­menistan and In­dia, a coun­try of 1.2 bil­lion. By far the small­est of Asia’s 47 na­tional and ter­ri­to­rial teams, the state of foot­ball in the tiny United States ter­ri­tory was so pre­car­i­ous barely a gen­er­a­tion ago that the is­lan­ders did not even bother en­ter­ing the World Cup qual­i­fiers. And when they did, they would of­ten lose in an avalanche of goals.

Be­fore their 1-0 vic­tory over Turk­menistan at home in June, the last time Guam played a World Cup qual­i­fier was in 2000 against Ta­jik­istan when were ham­mered 16-0. Three days ear­lier, Iran smashed 19 goals past them.

“We’re not go­ing into games to sit back and hope we don’t get beat by 10,” said White, who took charge of Guam in 2012. “That’s not how the game’s sup­posed to be played.”

Top of Group D af­ter their first two games, a 60 de­feat in Iran brought Guam down to earth with a bump be­fore they held Oman to a goal­less draw. Nar­row de­feats in Turk­menistan and In­dia saw White’s side slip to fourth on seven points from six games.


“The only way to ap­proach it is to go for it,” said the 41-year-old, look­ing ahead to Tues­day’s re­match with Iran. “I’d pre­fer that if we are go­ing to go down, we go down fight­ing-rather than sit­ting back and be­ing cow­ardly.”

White, who for­merly played for English non­league club Bog­nor Regis, be­gan coach­ing in 1998 when he was liv­ing on a coun­cil es­tate in Lu­ton, north of Lon­don, and faxed ev­ery na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion in the world look­ing for work.

Af­ter spells with the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands and Ba­hamas, White has worked a mi­nor mir­a­cle on the palm-fringed hon­ey­moon is­land of Guam, lo­cated 1,600 miles (2,600 kilo­me­tres) south of Ja­pan.

“A lot of coaches come into th­ese en­vi­ron­ments and look at it as an ob­sta­cle. I look at it as a ben­e­fit,” said White, whose meth­ods have helped tease some sparkling form from cap­tain Ja­son Cun­liffe and winger Ryan Guy.

“You have to find some­thing that pulls at the heart strings of a coun­try and its cul­ture and history, you can utilise that be­cause it’s big­ger than any­body,” he added.

“We use the Chamorro back­ground, the deep history of Chamorro peo­ple, who have been here for thou­sands of years and sur­vived nu­mer­ous takeovers from other coun­tries, whether it’s the Span­ish or the Amer­i­cans.”

At 155th in the FIFA world rank­ings, Guam will look to psy­che out Iran, Asia’s top-ranked team at 43rd, be­fore a ball has been kicked when they per­form the tra­di­tional “in­ifresi” war cry, the is­land’s version of the New Zealand haka.

Win or lose, White’s team have al­ready left their mark on the World Cup qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion. “What’s funny is the fact that a coun­try of 170,000 peo­ple went to a mas­sive coun­try like In­dia with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.2 bil­lion and were com­pletely dev­as­tated be­cause we lost 1-0,” said White. “That really shows ex­actly how far we’ve come.” — AFP

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